What Does A Classroom Without A Teacher Look Like? You’re About To Find Out.

The looming teacher shortage is at crisis level in many states. Here are the 3 steps we can take to fix it.

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President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in the Roosevelt Room of the White House — Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017 (AP)” class=”aligncenter size-full” />President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in the Roosevelt Room of the White House — Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017 (AP)

Schooled

School’s out for summer, but all across America, the rush to fill classroom vacancies is just beginning. According to the American Federation of Teachers, while 300,000 positions need to be filled nationwide, estimates indicate that as early as next year, critical shortages will leave the nation nearly 100,000 teachers short. By 2025, if current trends continue, more than a third of all American classrooms will not be supervised by a qualified teacher.

Massive shortages in education have two distinct causes.

Experts agree that while the current lack of interest in teaching as a profession may be tied to high profile layoffs during the Great Recession, the key to resolving the looming crisis isn’t about packing classrooms with newly minted educators. Cutting the attrition rate in half would be a more efficient way to address the issue, and it would virtually eliminate teacher shortages nationwide. So how do we get qualified educators to stay in the classroom?

Step 1: Pay Teachers a Living Wage

We’re all aware that teachers don’t make much, but the scope of the problem is startling. Since the 1990s, teachers wages have actually been falling, despite being required to spend more hours on the job with less prep time. On average, teachers in 2015 make $30 less per week than they did in 1996. The Center for American Progress reports that in 30 states, the median wage for a teacher would qualify a household of four for government assistance.

While many educators enter the profession out of a desire to make a difference, good intentions and altruism don’t pay the bills. Teachers currently make 20% less than other graduates who have earned similar degrees.

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Economic Policy Institute, The Teacher Wage Gap is Higher Than Ever” class=”aligncenter size-full” />Economic Policy Institute, The Teacher Wage Gap is Higher Than Ever

And the bottom line doesn’t stop there when it comes to leveling up teacher pay. Because these basement wages are compounded by growing amounts of college student loan debt that is economically crippling an entire generation of public service workers. If we want teachers to stay, we’ll have to pay them in an equitable way for their time, expertise, and education.

Step 2: Focus on Areas of Need

As you might expect, certain areas of education are harder hit than others by teacher shortages and our best chance of addressing the crisis in education is to focus on recruiting and attrition in these key fields.

But beyond these specialties, there is also a clear difficulty in keeping qualified educators in high poverty, minority schools. For instance, while half of all schools will be effected by the lack of special education teachers, 90% of impoverished school districts will struggle to fill those positions. Attrition rates for these schools have nearly quadrupled in the past decade. While increased salaries and student loan forgiveness programs will help address the issue, it won’t ultimately solve the problem of attrition in these schools. For that, we’ll need to dig deeper into the causes of teacher dissatisfaction.

Step 3: More Support, Less Oversight

The Learning Policy Institute cites several studies that shed a light on the sources of dissatisfaction among teachers and it boils down to two main issues.

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The Learning Policy Institute, Why Do Teachers Leave?” class=”aligncenter size-full” />The Learning Policy Institute, Why Do Teachers Leave?

Teachers don’t have the support or resources they need to be successful in the classroom, and they’re frustrated with increased demands for accountability and standardized testing that leave them with little autonomy or time to teach.

If we’d like new teachers to be successful, schools need to provide mentoring programs and additional prep time. Educators in challenging settings need the discretion to adapt curriculum and the ability to stop focusing on test scores to catch up in the race for funding.

Unfortunately, none of these solutions seem likely to be making any major advances under the current administration. Betsy DeVos, who touted her philosophy of “getting out of the way” and allowing teachers to have more autonomy in the classroom, seems to be compounding instead of resolving this crisis.

The proposed education budget has deep cuts to Title II funding, removing 2.4 billion from the very program designed to help districts support teacher development. It’s an amount equivalent to the yearly salary for over 40,000 teachers and it will have a crippling effect on attrition.

As for teacher pay, while there has been no broad consensus on addressing nationwide solutions, the Trump administration is poised to cut a key program that would have provided some relief. The White House has proposed a budget that would remove nearly 10.6 billion in funding, including money for student loan forgiveness programs.

This initiative, begun under G.W. Bush in 2007, provides loan forgiveness after a period of ten years to students who have been in public service, especially teachers. Currently, the median student loan debt for those who would qualify for this program is $60,000 and widespread panic has ensued as many who undertook long term commitments to the profession under the auspices of loan forgiveness worry about an uncertain future.

There is widespread agreement however that despite budget cuts, administrators in education could be doing more to inspire and support teachers. The ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development), is a community of educators that has long advocated that transformative leadership that redefines student success is sorely needed in education. Their recommendation to keep teachers in the classroom is simple. Stop defining both student and teacher success by test scores and move towards methods of curriculum development that ensure higher quality education.

Whatever we ultimately decide to do as a nation to address the teaching shortage, one thing is clear. Our current approach of making due with limited resources is not going to sustain floundering school districts. Every year we fail to invest in our kids is a year we sacrifice from our country’s collective future. They deserve better and so do our teachers.

Schooled // Betsy Devos / Education / Politics / Teaching